AI for Bid Writing? Could robots take over fundraising?
Updated: Jan 19
Unless you have been swamped in work these last few months and unable to sneak a look at LinkedIn or any other sector support, you probably will have noticed some growing ad sometimes panicky discussion around Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.
The AI industry is expected to grow almost 40% in the next ten years and as it emerges as both an industry and a movement, charities and their fundraisers across the land are beginning to wonder that this all could mean for the future.
Now, putting aside the imaginative impression of AI as a sleepy, submissive tech, lulling us into a false sense of security whilst we, humankind, further both our own laziness and quest for power and success, before rising up to take over the world in malevolent rage, thereby proving that we are in fact our own worst enemy as we are destroyed by our own making… Sorry - I’ve probably watched too many movies. You get the picture. Don't worry about that too much (but art does imitate life, so it’s probably best not to completely forget about it).
The question on everyone's lips is can AI take over the grant funding sector? Could AI write successful grant applications? Could it fundraise? Could it automate the principles and practice of helping others?
In my opinion, we just don’t know yet. AI could in theory do many things. We are already aware of how it can create content at speed. ChatGPT is a chatbot launched by OpenAI in November 2022. It uses natural language processing to produce essays, poems, lists, papers, blog posts and more. By learning from the data which is inputted, it can then answer questions in the same way that a human would. It’s like one of those Chat functions you get on a shopping website but much better. You know you are probably not talking to a human, but you aren’t quite sure. They keep repeating the same phrase over and over in a way that’s a bit creepy. ChatGPT acts like a human and continues to learn from each data and interaction and does a pretty convincing job of being human. But is in fact, artificial intelligence. A bot.
Could AI then take the role of fundraisers – specifically Bid Writers or Charity Comms specialists? I personally don’t think so.
Instead, what I think we will see, IF ChatGPT catches on for use across the sector, is a need to edit, amend and improve the content that it produces.
AI can’t take account of emotion or individual factors in the same way that a human can. It can’t relay the need in the same manner and all its intricacies.
It can’t understand the complexity of intersectionality, social mobility or the realities of injustice and inequality. And it definitely can’t give that lived-experience. Which begs the question, if your content, resources, services and fundraising are all managed through AI, can you really claim to be a by-and-for community organisation? What happens to your story-telling in that situation?
The same applies to bid writing. Sure, AI could answer some of the standard questions that funders ask by pulling from a bank of pre-populated data and content. For that, it could be very useful. We are all aware that charities spend enormous amounts of time filling out way-too-long applications, only to never get feedback when the application falls at the shortlisting stage. Perhaps AI could help to automate some of that.
But could it take over the whole fundraising process? No. Charities may move to use AI in the future, either internally or by contracting externally, but the content produced - be it for campaigns or grant funding - will still need to:
· Be bespoke to each charity and their beneficiaries needs
· Be tailored to each funder/audience and the respective funder/audience motives
· Deliver up to date facts taking account of current and future social factors or climate
· Story-tell and problem-solve through lived experience
· Be authentic, unique, genuine and make emotional and practical impact through human connection.
I guess we will see what the future holds and how the sector adopts AI use. Instead of something to fear, I think we need to see AI as something to potentially sit alongside the work that we do. How accessible it is for all communities and how suitable for all communities, also remains to be seen. It can only learn from the usage of those who utilise it. Which means that without the human experience, in all its diversity, AI is unlikely to be a true agent for social action. As it has always been and as it should be, humans need to help fellow humans. For now, watch this space.